VR game development transports information systems student into new frontiers

Guy Goodpaster

A class project at UMSL gave May information systems graduate Guy Goodpaster his first experience designing a virtual reality application. He now works as a junior developer at the ArchitectNow software development firm. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When Guy Goodpaster first saw the HTC VIVE virtual reality system, he immediately knew there was something special about it.

The product was different than other gaming systems on the market. He could put on the headset and enter an environment crafted purely from human imagination. The setting would look authentic, sound convincing and transport him to places he wouldn’t be able to visit otherwise.

“I remember seeing advertisements for it and thinking, ‘Wow. That looks really cool. That looks like something that can bring you to new realms,’” he said. “Whatever world is created inside of there is completely different. It’s something that someone has created and you get to experience it. I just see so many opportunities for that.”

The soon-to-be University of Missouri–St. Louis graduate is now one of those talented creators manufacturing new realities.

Goodpaster, an information systems student who is on track to graduate in May, has two VR applications in his portfolio. The first – a game inspired by the arcade classic Asteroids – came to life in a couple of weeks. The second – a response training system for active shooter emergencies – came together in a matter of hours.

He initially tried his hand at VR design as a project for an advanced programming class taught by adjunct professor Brian Lawton. The instructor warned Goodpaster and his teammates that they might be “biting off more than they could chew” in the time allotted but encouraged them to try anyway.

Lawton was pleasantly surprised by the results.

“It was truly amazing to see what a dedicated, hardworking, focused student could do in probably about two weeks,” Lawton said. “It’s really neat when you can take on something like that and have the ability to bring others with you. That was the big difference. Guy had two other team members, and they were right there with him. You could tell that he wasn’t going off and doing this on his own. They did it together as a team. It was so well done and nobody was left behind.”

Goodpaster admits it was a simple game, allowing players to destroy incoming asteroids with a baseball bat or gun. But it shaped the beginning of his career.

Impressed by Goodpaster’s leadership, humility and work ethic, Lawton recommended him to the president of ArchitectNow, a software development firm in Wildwood, Missouri. Goodpaster interviewed and then received an internship offer a few days later. His work on web applications has since transitioned into a full-time position as a junior developer.

“Up until meeting Professor Lawton, I went to class and only did what I needed to do,” Goodpaster said. “He has helped push me into this direction that I’m going in now.”

Goodpaster also gained experience from four local hackathons – software development events that challenge participants to create problem-solving products in a set amount of time.

Until recently, he had yet to place in any of these competitions, but the thrill of creating applications and expanding his skill set kept him coming back.

“Whenever you go into those kinds of hackathons, you just try and put your best effort forward,” he said. “As a long as you finish and have something to show at the end of the day, that’s what matters.”

Thanks to his budding VR design abilities, Goodpaster claimed a first-place finish at the third annual UMSL|Hack on Feb. 17. The winning team of Goodpaster, Sami Abrahim, Ivan Romero, Pablo Romero and Violeta Valle created ASERT – short for Active Shooter Emergency Response Training. The VR application, which they hope to build upon, assists individuals and organizations in their decision-making and emergency preparedness.

Lawton was once again impressed by Goodpaster’s collaboration and leadership style, which he imagines derives from Goodpaster’s service in the Marine Corps.

“It’s his internal drive combined with his humility and work ethic that lend to him being such a great collaborator,” Lawton said. “Being that great collaborator and having a vision is what makes him a great leader.”

Goodpaster served in the Marines from 2011 to 2015 before transitioning to a reservist role and starting classes at UMSL on the GI Bill. His military experience working as a network and telecommunications administrator evolved naturally into his education and career in information systems.

“I’ve had a really good experience at UMSL,” he said. “Every class has presented meaning that I can pull from. I think that it’s really important for students to take those connections that you make here very seriously. For all of the veterans that are coming to this school, come in and be humble, grateful for where you are and thankful for it.”

As Goodpaster nears the end of his undergraduate years, he continues to strengthen his VR portfolio. He’s working on another video game alongside his brother and girlfriend that will allow players to control a UFO to fight off an invading force.

He hopes it’s the next step in crafting his own corner of the virtual world.


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